President Rouhani continued his European tour with a meeting with Pope Francis on Tuesday
As the Iranian President continues his landmark visit to Europe, Syrian children have been photographed with posters calling on leaders to oppose his alleged intervention in the country’s civil war.
Pro-rebel activists in Aleppo, where civilians have been indiscriminately bombed during continuing battles between the Syrian regime, anti-government rebels and Islamists, claimed to have photographed the children in the rubble of their former homes.
They were seen holding posters accusing Hassan Rouhani of being “responsible for crimes committed by the Iranian regime in Syria” and addressed Francois Hollande, asking the French President to force his counterpart to withdraw troops.
Others were aimed at Mr Rouhani himself or the EU, reading in Arabic and English: “Ask Iran to stop killing us in our country“.
The photos, taken by activists linked to the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, could not be independently verified and are the latest in a series of images using children by all parties in the Syrian conflict.
Troops from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are believed to be supporting Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Aleppo and elsewhere in the ongoing civil war.
While the government officially denies it has deployed any combat troops in Syria, the official Irna news agency announced the deaths of at least 400 Iranian and Iran-based ”volunteers“ over the past four years in June.
Officials have also confirmed the death of several high-ranking IRGC commanders in Syria, where they were said to be “martyred…fulfilling their duty as military advisors and defending the holy Shia shrines”.
Four were killed in a week in October. While state media only said they died in “Southern Syria” of unknown causes, it came as a major offensive was launched by the Syrian regime and its supporters.
While announcing the deaths, Tehran said the IRGC was increasing the number of “military advisors” at the request of Bashar al-Assad’s government, which it said it was supporting against unspecified “terrorists”.
The Iranian President is currently visiting Italy and France as a thawing of relations continues following the implementation of last year’s nuclear deal.
Mr Rouhani met the Pope today, with the Vatican saying they discussed the nuclear accord and “the important role that Iran was called to play” to combat terrorism and arms trafficking.
The Vatican described the talks as “cordial” and said “common spiritual values were highlighted,” while photos showed the pair exchanging gifts including a Persian rug and medal depicting Saint Martin.
Mr Rouhani’s visit was the first meeting between a pope and an Iranian president since 1999.
Before going to the Vatican, he told a forum of business leaders in Rome that “Iran is the safest and most stable country of the entire region.”
“Italy has always backed the role of Iran as a regional player in resolving tensions in the area, starting with the Syrian crisis,” Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said.